Drone developers get big open source boost from Linux Foundation, vendors like 3D Robotics and Box

Drones are a hot topic right now, attracting not just big names like Amazon and Google, but thousands of independent developers who want to use aerial technology for fields like conservation, commerce, search and rescue, and scientific research.

On Monday, those developers got a big piece of good news: the Linux Foundation and ten companies announced the “Dronecode Project,” which will offer a huge repository of open source code for people to build aerial operating systems, navigation tools and other features for unmanned aircraft.

While Linux code is already part of many drone-related projects, the new initiative consolidates many of these assets under one roof, providing a common platform as well as communications and governance tools. And, of course, the code will be available to anyone who wants to use it.

The Dronecode Project will be overseen by the Linux Foundation, but it is also receiving some high-profile industry support, including from Chris Anderson, the former Wired editor who now runs the robot company 3D Robotics, and Box CEO Aaron Levie.

The project is moving quickly, according to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Foundation, who says 1,200 developers are already working on Dronecode, and that some projects are receiving 150 contributions of code a day.

“Up and down the stack, there’s already hundreds of thousands of lines of code,” he added, so developers won’t have to start drone projects from scratch.

The news of the Dronecode Project comes at a time when drones, many of which weigh only a few pounds, are poised to have a major effect on industries from movie making to farming to news gathering.

In the past two years, companies like Google and Amazon have been pouring money into drone investment, and so have venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz. In 2013, the firm put $10.7 million into Airware, a San Francisco startup that offers its own drone operating system to other companies. (Meanwhile, drones are becoming so widespread that hobbyists are racing them Star Wars-style through the forests of France).

The role of Linux in drone development is not new, however; the U.S. Air Force and Navy have reportedly been using it for several years.

The founding members of Dronecode Project consist of companies with expertise in drones or robots, including Robotics, Baudi, Box, DroneDeploy, jDrones, Laser Navigation, SkyWard, Squadrone System, Walkera and Yuneec.